There is, on the part of my computer’s hard drive dedicated to a Gmail account, a handful of folders I cannot let go of, filled with archived communication between myself and old boyfriends. Photos. “Love you”s. “Miss you”s. Beginnings. Endings. Folders with names like “X.J.O.” or “X 500,” the recurring “x” serving two purposes: to demonstrate their current place (or, I suppose, non-place) in my life, and to effectively push them all the way down towards the unseen bottom of the page, buried beneath more practical, benign categories like “Travel,” “Scripts,” and “Detroit.”
There they live, collecting virtual dust just like any love letters left to crumble in a box somewhere, or, even worse, be stumbled upon on a particularly sensitive day. I can assure you there are few things worse than typing “insta” into a search box to try and find a recent work email and instead come face-to-face with a three-year-old explanation from a boy about how he can’t be with you because he is only going to hurt you in the end. Because of my emotional hoarding, this has happened to me on more than a few occasions, and it’s enough to knock the wind clean out of you.
But if I don’t want to see it ever again, why does it still live on my computer at all? Why do I not, in some lovingly compassionate way, simply press the delete button and prevent gutting myself needlessly? Because, in truth, I want to remember. In sixty years, when I’m living somewhere—maybe sitting on this same busted couch in this same Brooklyn apartment—I hope to relish in these loves, even the ones that have gone wrong. This, I hope, will lead me down the path of some warm nostalgia. In the meantime, it’s probably just unhealthy.
I suppose I have always had a hard time of letting go. Underneath the bathroom cabinets in my mother’s house are probably six nearly empty bottles of grotesquely potent pre-teen lotions and hair products from the ‘90s: Sunflower-scented leave-in conditioner, Happy Daisy lotion from The Body Shop, a Christmas-themed room spray that smells like shoving pinecones up your nose. They have sustained multiple house moves; these are bottles that have existed in probably four different bathrooms over the course of my lifetime. And there used to be more. Even then, it still took me about 10 years to part ways with an empty bottle of Tommy Girl.
Ultimately what scares me most is giving up on the memory triggers. It doesn’t matter if they’re pleasant or treacherous; the memories themselves serve as storage of time, a way to contextualize and compartmentalize this life. By attempting to physically hold onto the past, you can keep one foot in the door while you move forward so as to pretend time isn’t moving so quickly after all. Even though it is. Unlike my Happy Daisy, my Tommy Girl, which I can effect upon some faulty math, my emails are all individually dated and timed, making holding onto them seem more silly with each passing and increasingly irrelevant day.
This is a dangerous digital age, where I can shove mountains of memories into compact little thumb drives, live in denial of my emo hoarding, justifying the whole ordeal by telling myself it doesn’t take up space… technically.